Discover this: Columbus Day isn't about Columbus

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tags: Columbus Day, Columbus



Sam Wineburg is a professor at Stanford University's School of Education and the author of "Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Future of Teaching the Past" (Temple University Press, 2001).

These days, a good word about Christopher Columbus is about as rare as an insult was 100 years ago.

For one thing, there's the ongoing question of whether a man can really "discover" a continent that is already inhabited. There's the much-repeated charge that he was only in it for the riches; that he was an imperialist, even that he was the founder of the Atlantic slave trade.

In the 1990s, the city of Berkeley actually gave up celebrating Columbus Day altogether and renamed it "Indigenous People's Day."

But whichever way you come down on the Columbus debate, here's the good news: Columbus Day in the United States is not really about Columbus anyway. Nor is it about 1492; in fact, it's about 1892, the year President Benjamin Harrison issued the proclamation establishing a day to honor the "400th anniversary of the discovery of America."

Before that, Columbus wasn't at the forefront of our national mythology. One hundred years earlier, the tercentenary of his landing in the New World had been barely noticed -- except in smallish gatherings...




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